Los Angeles

Flea-Borne Typhus Outbreak Among Homeless in Downtown LA

What to Know

  • Typhus can cause fever, chills, body aches, nausea and vomiting, cough, and rash, but can be treated with antibiotics.
  • The outbreak comes after a TB outbreak in the same area.
  • Typhus spreads through fleas and rat feces.

Note: The NBC4 I-Team has an update on the typhus outbreak. Please see the results of the I-Team's latest investigation Here.

A flea-borne typhus outbreak among homeless in downtown Los Angeles triggered an investigation by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health after several cases were reported, the agency said Thursday.

NBC sources say the number may be upwards of at least a dozen.

Typhus can cause fever, chills, body aches, nausea and vomiting, cough, and rash, but can be treated with antibiotics. If not treated however, it can be fatal. 

Flea-borne typhus is a bacteria that spreads to humans when they come in contact with infected fleas or rat feces. Animals such as cats, rodents and opossums all attract fleas. Piles of garbage may also attract fleas, leading them to humans through these means.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not been informed by the city or county, NBC sources say.

The scope of the outbreak is hard to assess because it could take one to two weeks to detect, meaning the full extent of the number of infections is likely unknown at this time.

The outbreak follows a Tuberculosis outbreak in the same area along numerous staph infections reported.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office said staff learned of the outbreak, which began last week, from the County Department of Public Health Thursday.

Public Health provided the following tips on protecting yourself:

  • Practice safe flea control
  • Use flea control products on your pets
  • When outside, wear pants tucked into socks or boots. Spray insect repellent with DEET on socks and pant cuffs
  • Avoid being near wild or stray animals
  • Never feed or touch wild animals, especially opossums, rats, stray, or feral cats
  • Store your trash in cans with secure lids to avoid attracting animals.
  • Get rid of places where rats and stray animals sleep, hide, or find food, like crawl spaces, attics, or under decks. Protect yourself by wearing gloves and a mask when cleaning these areas. Wash your hands when you’re finished.

For more information regarding flea-borne typhus, visit the agency's site, or call 2-1-1.

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